‘Toy Story 4’ is a sincere, worthy sequel to one of animation’s most beloved series

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I've been a fan of the "Toy Story" series my entire life. I had my own Woody doll with my name written in magic marker on the bottom of the boot, I watched the original VHS so many times the tape shredded and I shed some nostalgic tears at the end of "Toy Story 3."

With all that said, it's an understatement to say I was skeptical about a fourth entry when it was announced. Do we actually need a new installment after the third movie wrapped everything up so perfectly in 2010?

Turns out, we do. I'm thrilled to say that somehow the fourth time is also the charm for Pixar. "Toy Story 4" not only lives up to the legacy of the 1995 original and the 1999 sequel, but it goes above and beyond to tell an emotionally engaging story, deepening the already complex themes and characters that have captured the hearts of a generation of movie fans.

The plot is straightforward: Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang of everyone's favorite toys have to face a new challenge on vacation after their kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), creates a new toy, Forky (Tony Hale), from an old spork, a couple pipe-cleaners and some oddly expressive googly eyes. Woody then experiences a full-blown identity crisis as he tries to convince Forky that he is indeed a toy and not the trash he thinks he is, all while dealing with old, but not forgotten, feelings after re-uniting with a long lost love from his glory days with Andy.

First-time "Toy Story" directer Josh Cooley and writers Stephany Folsom and Andrew Stanton mainly use the plot as a clever jumping off point to stage some of the series' most well-executed set pieces -- Duke Caboom, a new Canadian stuntman toy voiced by Keanu Reeves, doing a daredevil jump off an antiques store shelf is a particularly fun highlight -- and ask us some profound questions such as: What is the meaning of life? How do we feel whole again if we feel like our purpose in life has been fulfilled?

Ultimately, "Toy Story 4" is a beautifully sincere movie about how everyone needs friends to help them discover who they are, and it leaves you with that signature blend of teary-eyed emotion and giddy delight that arises when Pixar is working at the top of their game.

Last Minute Thoughts: After last year's "Incredibles 2" and 2017's "Coco" raised the bar so high for Pixar's animation, I was genuinely amazed to see them push past their own boundaries, and the boundaries of the animated genre in general, to deliver their most visually stunning work yet.

If this weekend's selection of movies is a toy chest, play with this one first.

I agree with Rottentomatoes' score of 97%.

Check for showtimes here.

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